ENERGY minister Fergus Ewing has defended the way planning applications for major wind farms are handled by the Scottish Government, insisting that each case is assessed on merit.
He says that large-scale developments are considered carefully by inquiry reporters "who have no axe to grind".
Figures published at the turn of the year showed that only one fifth of major wind farm applications in Scotland had been refused over a four year period — leading to claims that ministers were too often failing to take account of local opposition.
While smaller developments can be dealt with at local authority level, those over 50 megawatts require ministerial consent under Section 36 of the Electricity Act.
In an interview for our Energy North supplement, inside this week’s Ross-shire Journal, Mr Ewing says: "We have certainly granted most of the applications, that is true, but each application is dealt with on its merits, and in many cases the picture is far more complicated than has been depicted."
But he adds: "We make no bones about it. Wind power does play an invaluable part in providing electricity to this country, it plays a valuable part in reducing our carbon footprint, it makes a substantial contribution to communities, many of which are the most remote in the country, and without it we wouldn’t be at the races.
"Some people say, ‘Well, we don’t particularly like onshore wind, but if we could only have wave and tidal and offshore wind that would be fine.’ I am afraid we can’t have that."
Mr Ewing, the MSP for Inverness and Nairn, highlights the huge economic impact that will be made by offshore wind, wave and tidal developments in the Highlands and Islands in the coming years.
He says: "No-one can be totally certain how many jobs it will deliver, but all the evidence points to the fact that this is perhaps the greatest potential for new jobs that the Highlands and Islands have had in living memory."
He also makes it clear that the SNP administration will be willing to consider extending the life of nuclear plants as part of the energy mix.
"We will rely, in our transition to a low-carbon economy, on the continued thermal generation from gas and coal and nuclear for some considerable time," he says. "We have said that we wouldn’t stand in the way of an extension to Torness or Hunterston, the nuclear power stations, provided that the case is safely made to the appropriate authorities."
Read the full interview inside this week's Energy North supplement.